The Health Benefits of Optimism: How Staying Positive Keeps you Healthy

Ancient wisdom suggests that we accept what we cannot change. Modern science shows that an optimistic world-view may actually lower our risk of death from heart attack and stroke.

We all have our bad days. But the long-term effects of stress can be hard on the body.

The American Psychological Association notes that stress can cause negative effects throughout your body. Chronic stress can even increase the risk of hypertension, heart attack, or stroke.

But studies show that we ultimately have a lot of control over our mood. We can stay positive about our future.

A study conducted by Dr. Kaitlin Hagan and Dr. Eric Kim from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health looked at the relationship between optimism and mortality rates. Data from more than 70,000 female patients was analyzed.

Drs. Hagan and Kim found that the most optimistic people had a reduced risk of dying from major causes in an eight-year period when compared to those who viewed themselves as less optimistic.

In the study, the most optimistic women had a 38% lower risk of dying from heart disease and 39% lower risk of dying from stroke. That is significant. 

Harvard Health recommends these tips for staying optimistic:

Focus on the good in life

Be appreciative of what you have. You may not have the biggest house on the block or the shiniest car, but does that really matter in grand scheme? In the words of Harry Cooper of Twin Peaks: “Every day, once a day, give yourself a present.” Maybe it’s a hot cup of coffee or a nice, long walk. Focus on doing things you enjoy and be mindful of how they bring you pleasure.

Do something charitable or nice for others

You can’t change the whole world. But you can make a difference locally. Go through your closet and donate old clothes you don’t need, go out of your way to help someone who needs a hand, or volunteer at a local organization. You’ll feel the difference you are making in the world.

Stop negativity in its track

Take control of your inner monologue. Sometimes terrible things happen in life, and we can’t help it. But are you getting upset over spilt milk? Stop negativity in its tracks by stopping what you’re doing and shift gears. Rather than dwelling, crank up your favorite album, turn on your favorite movie, call an old friend, or make a delicious dinner. Don’t ruminate; act.

Take care of yourself 

Be kind to yourself. Don’t beat yourself up. We all make mistakes. In the words of the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus, “The sun is new each day.” In other words, treat each day as an opportunity to take small steps toward becoming a better version of yourself.

And sometimes that’s as easy as getting to bed earlier for some extra sleep, planning out your meals for the week to reduce stress, or giving yourself a pat on the back for doing a good job. Forgive yourself; we’re only human.

Be mindful

Worry comes from imagining bad scenarios in the future. Well, today is just today. Focus on what’s going on right here, right now. Things are looking pretty good, hey?

Always discuss your health goals with your primary care provider. If you need to find a provider, use our “Find a Doctor” tool online or call 906.228.9440 to make an appointment today. UP Health System provides family medicine services in Marquette, Negaunee, Escanaba, Harvey, Gladstone, and Sault Ste. Marie. For services in Ishpeming and the Copper Country, find more information online at UP Health System – Bell and UP Health System – Portage.

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